At an IBM lab in North Austin, a team of hackers are breaking into ATMs, cell phone apps and even cars.
The Austin group is working in one of four secure IBM “X-Force Red” labs around the globe. The company on Monday announced the launch of the lab network, with locations in Austin, Atlanta, England and Australia.
The hackers aren’t new to the company. Since 2016, the X-Force Red team has worked to find vulnerabilities in products before and after they’re put on the market. Now, they have place to safely test the security of devices and systems.
According to the company, the X-Force Red client base has grown by more than 170 percent in the past year.
“We are problem solvers,” said Charles Henderson, global head of X-Force Red. “But most importantly, our clients come to us because they know their ATM, their web application … they know it will eventually be attacked by a criminal.”
IBM’s focus on ATM security comes at a time when the machines frequently make headlines -- whether it’s credit card skimmers or software to empty cash from the machine. According to IBM, the company has experienced a 300 percent increase in requests for ATM testing since 2017.
The team steps in to hack the machine in the same way that a criminal would to find its vulnerabilities, Henderson said.
“We want to make sure the first time an adversary goes against an ATM, it’s not a criminal endeavor,” Henderson said.
X-Force Red hackers also focus on mobile apps and Internet access devices — commonly referred to as “Internet of Things,” a tech industry term for non-computing devices that are connected to the Internet.
Henderson said the company is hiring new employees for the lab in Austin. The company does not disclose how many members are in X-Force Red or how many will be added to the team in the future.
IBM is one of the largest technology employers in the Austin metro area, with an estimated 6,000 workers here. The company was one of the pioneers of Austin’s tech sector, as it has had operations in Austin since 1967.
“Austin has a vibrant hacker culture,” said Henderson, who is based in Austin. “It’s just a natural fit for a main emphasis for a group of labs like this.”
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